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DARPA: Give Us Paper Drones!

The US Army’s MQ-9 Reaper drone cost $14.75 million each, a cheaper military drone capable of delivery deadly payloads will still cost several million. Add on hourly flight time costs of a few thousand dollars and a drone army gets expensive. A consumer drone, which can still be weaponised see Ukraine and the Middle East, costs far far less, from hundreds to thousands. Though the price difference is great the drones are re-usable. Building paper drones for one-way trips is an emerging area of the drone development.

Paper Drones

DARPA put out a call for unmanned aerial systems that degrade. Otherlab, a San Francisco-based company, came up with APSARA (Aerial Platform Supporting Autonomous┬áResupply/ Actions). The idea behind one-way drones is being looked upon as a way to improve humanitarian response times. Getting supplies quickly to areas cut off from other modes of transport is essential. Of course military applications aren’t far away, one can imagine a spy waiting for the little paper plane to drop off instructions behind enemy lines.


As the video above shows, the ASPARA glides to its destination and makes a spiral descent before crash landing. No rotors are involved, its streamlined stealth bomber profile does the work. The body is made form cardboard and packing tape. Inside the most basic hardware is utilised, a GPS tracker, autopilot and a disposable battery. Otherlab say the drones will be able to travel up to 150 kilometers and be accurate to within 10 meters. They can carry 1kg loads, once you’ve got the package the drone is designed to be left to decompose. Low-cost electronics are currently being used, although degradable hardware is the subject of another DARPA program- Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR). Saving the electronics for return flights is another option if the drone blueprints, along with some cardboard and tape, are available.

Otherlab envision a large transport plane loaded with drones from which to deploy the gliders. They predict one plane could delivery to an area the size of California. Apsara in Hindu and Buddhist mythology is a female spirit of clouds and water. The beautiful and supernatural beings love dancing and inhabit the skies, in addition to this they are meant to be able to change shape at will. All this seems like some apt acronymisation for these biodegradable glider paper drones.